The recent launch of the the Space X Falcon9, successfully delivering astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken aboard their Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station has renewed public interest in the space program. And at a time when there are so many other problems affecting the world, a little excitement and optimism is what the world needs.
Space exploration has often been associated with this hope and optimism, as we see parts of the universe through new eyes, and discover that we can achieve things that had previously only been dreamt of.
A child excited by the the dream of space travel today might look at the range of LEGO City ‘Mission to Mars’ sets from 2019, and be inspired by such a future, as some of us were 40 odd years ago, when we first saw LEGOLAND Space.
Back in those days, we started with spacemen on a planet somewhere. They had a spaceship, a rover or a base. Or all three. They were all working together: no fighting, just cooperation in achieving the teams goals.
Rummaging through a bulk lot recently, I found many of the elements required to put together 6970: Beta I Command Base. The rails were the defining parts in the collection, and I was able to reconstruct the set, almost in its entirety from the elements available. This is a magnificent set from 1980: it includes everything a budding explorer might need: a base, a shuttle, a small rover, two great crater baseplates and a monorail, and a crew of four space men: two red and two white. You could argue that this set had everything that a 10 year old me could have wanted.
The overall feel was quite familiar – it had been staring me down from my the wall of shame, where I had a copy of 60228: Deep Space Rocket and Launch Control waiting to be built. In this set (still available from LEGO.com and other retailers), we build a launch control building, a rocket, containing a small satellite, a rover, a robot and a monorail…well a light rail at least. We have a crew of two astronauts, as well as a support crew including engineers, scientists and a launch controller. The included landscape is somewhat limited, however: reduced to an 8×8 plate with a couple of sloped bricks on.
I found myself asking the question: ‘Did LEGO bring back Classic Space in 2019, but nobody noticed?’
Let’s look at both of these sets, and after, perhaps have a bit of a look at things which the Classic Space and LEGO City Space themes have in common.
Blasting into the Past
And so I began to assemble 6970: Beta 1 Command Base, searching through the boxes that I found the rails in. Fortunately, much of the grey, blue and trans yellow had made their way into one of two boxes that the bulk arrived in. I did not have printed instructions available, so I found some online: essentially a scanned version of the paper document. This set was first released in 1980, and has 264 pieces, along with 4 minifigures. This newspaper cutting from 1981 suggests that it had an Australian RRP of $39.95 – although at the time of publication was subjected to discounting.
Let’s Start Things Rolling With A Buggy
There is a lot going on in this set, so it needs a lot of minifigures – we have four in this set: two red and two white. Time had been harsh on the printed logo on their torsos, but there is no doubt that they represent the best of classic space. There are a number of different accessories to be found in this kit, including the airtanks as well as radios and a hand scanner. Or is it a ray gun…
After putting together our four mini figures, the build moved onto a small buggy: essentially a rebuild of 886, with added tool storage… well, a horizontal clip holding onto a black spanner. This buggy recurs through many sets in that initial run of space sets, with variations appearing in 483/920 Alpha I Rocket base; 493/926 Space Command Centre; and 497/928 Galaxy Cruiser (with an altered aerial). After 40 years, I can still build it by heart. I was never afraid to pull it apart, as it could always be easily rebuilt.
The next panel sees us put together the shuttle. At 16 studs or so long, there are several elements that we see here which are recolours: the truncated cone(3943a) in white; the antenna 1×4 (3757), the triple loudspeaker/thrusters(3963), the support stand 2x2x2(3940a) and the Bracket 2×2-2×2 with 2 holes (3956) all in black. These parts had previously only appeared in light grey. The shuttle wings feature vertical stabilisers, made of the 4×4 wedge plates, with cutouts. The grey 3×4 slope, with classic space logo (3297p90) only appeared in this set, and one other in 1986.
The shuttle is a good size and quite swooshable. The lateral stabilizers were a new feature for LEGO Spaceships at this time. It can fit one spaceman comfortably, but can be easily modified to carry a second. There is a two stud wide groove underneath, so that it might comfortably fit on the launch ramp.
From here, we move onto the main base. Elevated on a number 2x2x2 supports, it has a 8×24 footprint. If contains the requisite computers, as well as the blue walls, and yellow windows that you have come to expect from early Classic Space. There are clips on the wall to allow mounting of ‘guns’, walkie talkies and oxygen tanks. There are some chairs ( which were new elements when this set debuted in 1980). These chairs are mounted on turntables, and there are also as beds – 2×6 studs. It was at this stage that I realised that I was missing the 1x6x5 printed brick. Exclusive to this set, I was unable to find it amongst the bulk lot. A local brick linker specialising in second hand parts was able to help me with this – before he had listed it.
The base also features an aerial with side spokes (3144). To my joy, it was intact: bricklink prices start at around $AUD11.00 and go up from there.
The roof sees us join together three 8×6 plates- two in trans yellow and one in blue – with some 12 stud blue technic bricks. One large and two small radar dishes see this base well set up to function as a communication base.
After this, we add the rails– also attached to studded technic beams down towards the launch pad – there is a blue 2×4 hinge element, which allows our shuttle to be poised, ready to leave the launch pad. The monorail car itself is a 4×8 plate, with some bricks underneath, as well as grey seats and bar 1x4x2 with studs (4083), another element making its first appearance in 1980.
Finally, we have the flag, which was in great condition, but had seen poorly applied stickers, all those years ago…
I’ll have to admit, on completing this set, I was very happy…
This set is a gem: it contains everything you need for a space base: a place to live, a place to work, a vehicle for scouting around the environment, as well as tools for working. There is a lot of communications and scanning equipment. The shuttle. And the monorail. I can only imagine how 11 year old me would react to this set. In my own childhood, we had only a couple of smaller LEGOLAND Space sets. This set could set the stage for delightful days of play.
Today is the Future of Yesterday.
As I mentioned, I had a copy of 60228 Deep Space Rocket and Launch Control Sitting on my shelf. It had been sent to me by the LEGO Group’s AFOL engagement team for review purposes (thank you to the team for this) and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to build this set – and look at the ways in which things had changed over the previous 40 or so years.
This set feels a big: with 832 parts, seven minifigures and eight numbered bags, I had the better part of an afternoon ahead of me in construction!
We start off here with several figures: an engineer in safety goggles, with navy blue and dark orange. We have a middle aged woman, in lab coat with a camera, and long lens. She has a neutral expression, with a second expression looking just a little concerned. The other two – working in Mission control – will appear later.
We now go on to build a robot: robots of different designs recur over many of the City Space sets in this wave. This robot is really a small rover – similar to the Curiosity Rover, currently on mars, as well as the (as yet unnamed) rover due to replace it this year. The robot is given a transparent red tile to hold – I’m sure we will find the reason for this in due course.
Next we build a small rover – based on a 10×6 plate. We have swivelling double wheels, as well as a small crane arm, with a pincer held closed with a rubber band. The driver’s seat has a control panel. Gone are the days when every LEGO space vehicle has a steering wheel at the feet of the driver.
To finish Bag 1, we put together a small amount of landscape: an 8×8 tan plate, with some rocks, including the split mineral rock introduced for this theme. There is a tile, with obscured printing. If the robot carries the red tile over this tile, a clearer image of a mineral’s structure is revealed. I really like this play feature – it forces a little interaction with the model already.
In fact, if I was tired of building, its a logical place to take a break. The earth based scientists can control the robot as it explores the landscape. If only I had an astronaut to ride in the rover. I suppose we need to get them to Mars first…
Bags 2-4: On with the Rocket.
The next bag brings us a female astronaut, dressed in an orange space suit, featuring a new space logo: an orange planet, with a ‘swoosh’ moving up across it. This logo can be seen to have its origins in the classic space logo from 1978, but has certainly moved on since then. The male will follow in a bag or two, but let us put them side by side. There is great printing detail front and back, and the helmets are even dual moulded. Both of the astronaut’s heads feature dual sided prints. Unlike most of the other figures in the set, the astronauts feature some detailed leg printing.
This bag also sees us construct payloads for our rocket: a satellite and the nose cone for the rocket. Half of the cone is a printed, trans black, truncated cone, with additional elements leading to the tip. Unfortunately, the solar panels are stickers.
We start work on our rocket. The cockpit comfortably holds one astronaut or two, uncomfortably! There are a couple of printed 2x1x2/3 slopes that make up the controls for the pilot. There is a unique printed transparent truncated cone element to use as the windscreen for the capsule.
Bags 3 and 5 see us construct the body of the rocket: there is a lot of dark orange here. The bulk of the shaft is made up with the new for 2019 city space ‘Shell 6x10x4 1/3, outside bow’ This large element appears in this set in dark orange, and a white version can be found in 60229: Rocket assembly and Transport.
The segments of the rocket are joined together by another new element: a 1x6x4 brick, with connections for technic connectors. This is another element exclusively appearing in the City Space theme at this time.
After the main body of the rocket, we add booster rockets to either side: relatively straight forward, they also add stability to the rocket.
Time for the Lunchpad…sorry Launch Pad.
I started building midmorning, and had forgotten to stop. as such, I felt the need to steal this joke from the opening episode of ‘Far out Space Nuts’ a Bob Denver sitcom that was never quite as funny as Gilligan’s Island.
The launch pad fits on a 16×16 plate, and provides stability for the rocket, and also a nifty play feature, with the gantries falling away as the rocket lifts off. I was building using the Instructions Plus, rather than the manual, and found a problem with the instructions here: some weight bearing bricks were not secured in any way. On checking the paper instructions, I became convinced that the feeling I had was right…
Bags 6 and 7 put together the command centre. The windows over the launch centre lift off to allow playable access. The base is hinged, and the centre opens up like a doll’s house.
There are some clever, sticker based, clear panel tricks here, including a screen tracking the rocket in orbit, and a clever ratcheted countdown mechanism. Unfortunately, this mechanism is also incorrectly demonstrated at this time on Instructions Plus (for those building digitally), with incorrect orientation of the rubber ‘Damper 2M’
The section is completed with placing curved windows over the control room, providing the operations staff with clear views out over the spaceport.
There is also scope to insert a mobile phone through the side of the central centre to provide a more dynamic screen, especially if you are running the the LEGO City Explorer App. this app provides fun moving graphics, as well as information about the real life concepts behind the City Space (2019) sets, links to Instructions Plus and building challenges.
Monorail! Well, Technically Its A Roller Coaster…
Our final bag is spent completing the build with the unifying feature of all the component modules: the rail rack – not quite a monorail, the ‘roller coaster’ is propelled by a bar that is pushed, and runs down, along a winding path past several labelled zones: the testing facility and the launch pad. You get two curves, two ‘dips’ and three ‘straights’ included, and if you add a similar number of tracks, you could construct a great circular track – especially if you have managed to motorise your monorail.
Over all, the build has been quite interesting, and a bit of fun. There is a lot of play potential here. The control centre has some great play features: allowing the cabin to open up, and dynamic displays on the large screens. Satellite and robot can be made to fit in the storage compartments of the rocket, however, the rover vehicle that is included is unable to be transported in the rocket.
Does it represent value for money? This is an big set, but it has a lot to offer. Personally, I think the rocket is not as swooshable as any of the smaller shuttle sets that I have put together from this theme. The roller coaster is appealing, but is also a little limited. I am interested in the possibility of adding powered up to the ‘train’ to get it running along the track, back and forth. Perhaps I’ll look at that in the future: Jason Allemann of JK Brickworks, amongst others, has demonstrated an approach or two to allow this to be done, perhaps with a similar final essence as seen with the Futuron Monorail from 1987.
The parallels between this set and 6970 are remarkable. The big differences: the base is set on Earth, and not everyone is an astronaut. We have a rocket rather than a shuttle. BUT back in 1978-79, shuttles were the anticipated form of space travel. The age of the shuttle is over, and we have now returned to the age of the rocket. So having a rocket leaving the base is more relatable. Of course, the 60227 Lunar Space Station is a base, but set in space, and it comes with a shuttle and satellite. Perhaps a parallel to the Alpha 1 Command Rocket base from 1979? And we have smaller and larger shuttles in the line as well. Perhaps we will look at these in the near future.
Was City Space Subtheme a 40 Year Tribute to Classic Space?
As I built the city set, I found myself wondering whether the City Space/Mission to Mars sub theme met the criteria for Classic Space, and found a few parallels:
- Classic Space is a predominantly exploratory theme, rather than a confrontational theme (where we have competition or enemy factions). NASA has set Mars as the target for the Next Big Manned Space Project. Most of the City Space ‘19 sets are based on input from either NASA designs, concepts and careers – but again, exploration is the goal.
- There is a great spirit of collaboration, although some comes from the earth based scientists and engineers.
- Along with the bases with a shuttle and rocket, we have two shuttle based sets – 60224 and 60226. These almost seem to be in parallel with 918 and 928 (497), as far as content is concerned – but we will look at these on another occasion.
- We have a surface rover – this could be in parallel to the mobile lab 6901 or 6821 Shovel buggy from 1980; or even the 6927 All-Terrain Tracking Vehicle.
- Do we consider the Spaceman with Satellite to be a parallel of the Space Scooter, or something else? A random pocket money set? Or a more realistic one minifigure set than we might otherwise expect, occupying the retail space of similarly sized sets from 1978-79.
- Both the launch Classic Space, and City Space ’19 have an internally consistent design language. Although, after 1981, we started to see significant divergence in the colour and element palette in use. By 1985, only the presence of the logo identifies the sets as Classic Space. Rather than Grey, Blue and trans yellow, City Space focusses on White, Orange and Black, with a little Blue here and there. The logo used in City Space ’19 has heritage in the Classic space logo, but is certainly a little different. Was this going to mark the end of the Classic Space Logo cropping up? No fear! This year, we have seen an orange ‘Classic’ Spaceman appear on the cover of a DK Book, as well as a new modified version of the classic spacesuit appearing on the mini figure in the latest Creator 3-in-1, 31107 Space Rover Explorer.
- In the first few years of Classic Space, we saw spacemen that were White, Red, Yellow and Blue. In City Space ’19, we see much the same. Although you might need to mix the red and yellow from Classic space to make Orange!
LEGO City has always sought to be based, in part, on things that occur within the child’s realm of experience: either through seeing things in real life, reading about them, or seeing them on television (or indeed the interwebs). As such, City Space’19 has a more solid foundation in current space exploration than may have been the case back in 1979. But there is still plenty that is speculative – looking for a future for humanity beyond the Earth.
There are so many parallels between the Beta I Command Base and the Deep Space Rocket and Launch Control: spacecraft, and launch centre. The unifying monorail, and the rover. But 60228 does com with some extras: more figures, the robot and also a satellite. The Beta Base came with a shuttle, rather than rocket. The 920 Rocket launch base featured a rocket on the launch pad, with its building. I can see that the 60227 Lunar space Station – which, while space based, could readily become a surface based construction, and comes with a shuttle. So, do those two combined bases from 2019 roughly approximate the combined bases from 79-80 in their content? (I recognise that I have not included 60229:Rocket Assembly and Transport or 493/926 space Command Centre in this analysis)
As a general play set, I give 60228 Deep Space Rocket and Launch Control 4 arbitrary praise units out of five. The Beta 1 Command Base, 4.5 out of five. For me, the size and swooshability of the deep space rocket that lets it down: It’s almost too big! The launch control has some great play features, and the monorail shows immense potential. But, putting together a number of sub builds, with extremely clever play features, takes time. It took me the better part of the afternoon. A couple of errors in the Instructions Plus also detracted from the build: these have been reported to customer service, and will hopefully be corrected before long. I do like the clean, realistic livery of the 2019 sets, with the orange trim, as well as little shoutouts of blue, here and there – nodding to the old heritage. The Classic Space base is certainly a simpler build, and ready to take the imagination on a journey far far away, in a shorter time: even when you have to sort all the bits out of a bulk lot. And it shows how much can be achieved with a relatively low part count. There is so much playability in this set, and for me, it hits all those great nostalgic notes: reminding me of the pictures I pored over for hours in catalogs as a kid.
What do you think of these sets? Do you think the City Space 2019 set out to recapture the spirit of Classic Space (1978-86), and succeeded? Or did it just fall flat? I’d love to hear your thoughts: leave your comments below, or reach out to the Rambling Brick on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Until next time…